A warm welcome to Santa by the fireplace and delightful appetizers made with zucchini and raclette cheese for our guests

Hello! It is Christmas Eve and guests are on arrival. The ideal place to welcome them could be a cosy, comfortable corner by the fireplace, where warm, fragrant appetizers, made of puff pastry, wait for them. These appetizers are easy, light and fast to be made.

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Hello! It is Christmas Eve and guests are on arrival. The ideal place to welcome them could be a cosy, comfortable corner by the fireplace, where warm, fragrant appetizers, made of puff pastry, wait for them. These appetizers are easy, light and fast to be made. Would you like to try and make them? Start making little disks of puff pastry and place them on a baking tray. You can fill the centre of each disk with some beans, in order to have a cavity to fill with zucchini (which you have already sautéed with garlic, onion, a sprinkle of salt, pepper and chopped parsley, in extra-virgin olive oil and white wine) and little cubes of raclette cheese to grill and melt later on. Place the little disks in the oven for few minutes 180° C/200°C and then out of the oven just for the time you need to fill them with zucchini and raclette. Place the appetizers in the oven again and, as soon as their surface is golden, puffed and crisp and raclette looks melted, they are ready to be served to guests with a glass of white wine by the fireplace. Besides, please won’t forget to bake some puff pastry little stars and fill them with homemade apricot jam. Leave them in a dish by the fireplace for welcoming Santa. He will appreciate your kindness for sure.

Merry Christmas! Buon Natale! Frohe Weihnachten! God Jul! 


Jul, jul, strålande jul

A warm, soft heart of mushrooms, Swiss chard and pecorino cheese dipped in a sweet pepper sauce

Hello, welcome March! Is there any party on, by chance? Well, in that case, follow the rhythm of music and prepare these appetizing, golden balls made of a warm, soft heart of mushrooms, Swiss chard and pecorino cheese. Then, dip them in a sweet pepper sauce. Your guests will love them!

For the vegetable balls you need:

500gr Swiss chards, 300 gr Champignon, 1 egg, 3 spoons of pecorino cheese, garlic, 3 spoons extra virgin olive oil, nutmeg, salt.

  • Steam the Swiss chards, add little salt in the end and strain very well. Then, mince the vegetables and mix all together with an egg and pecorino cheese in a bowl. Please, do not add flour.
  • Fry the mushrooms in extravirgin olive oil, add a hint of garlic, little salt, some white wine and cook for about 10 minutes (in the end, the wine must be well dried out). Also in this case, like for the Swiss chards, mince the champignon.
  • Mix all ingredients, champignon and Swiss chard, make small balls, prepare a good coating with breadcrumbs and egg and fry them.  

 For the sweet pepper sauce you need:

a couple of peppers (you can choose between a sweet or hot pepper sauce), onion, garlic, salt, pepper, extra-virgin olive oil. Sauté the peppers, add little wine and then make a sauce.

Finally, serve your vegetable balls very warm, dip them in the pepper sauce and Buon Appetito!

 

 

Appetizing croquettes made of vegetables and sweet yellow tomatoes for a smooth sauce

   The new week started with its usual rhythmic step but then, in the middle of the day or when activities allow a break, that is the time for turning your sight, looking at nature and enjoying the splendid work of art the Autumn season is making of it. Since it is almost lunch time, I will prepare some light croquettes made of wild chicories I bought from an old friendly peasant that knows where to find them along the stony paths in the countryside.

   The thought run to the past, to a family tradition we had when I was a little child and it was right at this time of the year: indeed, my aunt, during the week-end, visit us for a cup of warm coffee and then, all together, her sister and my Mom used to have a drive to her plot of land in the countryside, where, in the soft light of a mild afternoon, we enjoyed picking wild chicories and other vegetables, which then were prepared as the local gastronomy suggested.

   Back to the recipe of the day I have in mind, first of all, it is necessary to check the wild chicories, washing accurately and boil them for few minutes, in order to remove the bitter taste. After that, the chicories go in a pan with some extra-virgin olive oil and, as soon as they start hissing, it is necessary to add some bouillon made with vegetables to enrich their taste. Next step, far from the cooker, is to strain and chop the wild chicories up. So, in a big bowl, I prepare an homogeneous mixture made of wild chicories, an egg, grated goat cheese, breadcrumbs, some milk, a sprinkle of pepper. Working with hands the mixture, I make small croquettes stuffed with tiny cubes of provolone fiaschetto cheese (I chose this kind of cheese because of its light spicy taste that matches so well both with the mixture of vegetables and the sweet sauce made of winter yellow tomatoes, I am going to prepare for the croquettes). After breading, the croquettes go in the oven with few drops of extra virgin olive oil for about 15 min 220°C until their surface will become gold and the cheese will start melting inside.

  In the meanwhile, as already mentioned, let’s prepare a velvety sauce with those typical winter yellow tomatoes. It is simple: it is necessary to have some extra-virgin olive oil in a pan, onion, an idea of garlic, a piece of carrot and celery and then add the tomatoes, hot pepper, a sprinkle of salt. It will take only  few minutes to prepare a smooth sauce.

   Serve the croquettes very warm and with the sweet yellow tomatoes sauce and some parsley as decoration for the dish and ‘buon appetito’!

 

 

 

Time for a genuine Spring appetizer

It is the last week-end of March, the temperatures are getting milder and we do enjoy the pleasure of preparing season food, which tastes even better when it is light and genuine. At this proper, I would like to suggest a culinary idea that has its roots by our local tradition in Apulia, Southern Italy. It could be a delicious appetizer, which would take you only 20/30 minutes to make it ready. Well, let’s do it! 

First of all, fry some cherry tomatoes (please, remember to prick each of them with a toothpick) and rings of onion in extravergin olive oil (not so much). Be careful, it is necessary to cover the pan, since the tomato juice could splash when in contact with the hot oil. In the end, add a sprinkle of salt, pepper and origan.

Secondly, peel the green fava beans and fry them gently with fresh bacon and a hint of garlic. Add little white wine and let evaporate. In the end, add a sprinkle of salt, pepper and fresh mint. You will smell the fresh fragrance!

Then, it will be bread’s turn. Place some small slices of homemade bread in the oven, just for few minutes, to make them warm and slightly crisp(200°). The next step is to rub some garlic on the surface of bread: this is something that goes according to your personal taste, indeed not everybody can appreciate the fragrance of garlic.

In the end, prepare the slices of bread on a plate, pour on their surface some drops of extravrgin olive oil, the juice of tomatoes that is in the pan and distribute fried tomatoes, fava beans and tiny peaces of bacon. Besides, for this dish, which has the flavours of our local Mediterranean culinary tradition, I chose a local fresh sheep milk cheese to pair with and I decorated the plate with some mint. You can add drops of balsamic vinegar if you like it.

As always, the choice of wine is yours: I would have a glass of prosecco wine to thanks and for wishing everybody a good weekend!

Cenci, fiocchetti, frappe or chiacchiere, etc… Celebrating last days of Carnevale season with a typical ancient dessert that takes you around Italy

Carnival is at the end of its season and, in Italy, we like to celebrate it by preparing a well known light dessert, which has many different names, according to the region we visit, and perhaps it has its roots in the ancient Roman festivities called “frictilia”. 

The recipe is simple and it doesn’t take too long for preparing this fragrant delicacy at home. Of course, the recipe for making cenci, fiocchetti, frappe or chiacchiere can be slightly different from a place to an other in Italy or even among families. The ingredients that follow belong to the traditional recipe that in my family they have been using for years. It is always a lovely feeling to open that old, turned yellow exercise book, where my aunt Lucia diligently took note of her recipes: some of them were expression of our local culinary tradition, some others were the fruit of her experiences in the kitchen and some more were found on old fashion magazines. 

Ingredients: 

  • 500gr. wheat flour
  • n.2 eggs
  • n.2 spoons of sugar
  • 50 gr. butter
  • a sprinkle of salt
  • a bit of anise
  • a bit of white wine

Mix all together and work the mixture until it is well done, then cover it with a kitchen napkin and leave it to rest for a couple of hours. After this, make a sheet of pastry that should be a couple of millimeters thick (you may use your rolling pin or your Grandma Duck for making homemade pasta). Once you have made graceful ribbons (call them cenci, fiocchetti, frappe or chiacchiere, etc) from the stripes, fry them deep into peanut oil until they are fragrant, golden and crisp. Dust icing sugar on their surface. At this point, (according to my personal taste and inspired by typical Swedish pastry – making confectionery that is well known for the use of a range of fragranced spices) a tiny suggestion to this inviting afternoon snack might be a light variation to the traditional recipe, that is by adding also a sprinkle of cardamom or of the spice you prefer at best. Serve this light dessert with your coffee or tee and enjoy a beautiful Mardi Gras!

Apulia, its unusual white dress of fluffy snow and a warm vegetable soup that tastes of simple life!

The Epiphany weekend is already behind us and Apulia region, mostly characterized by mild temperatures, even at winter time, like other places in Southern Italy, is extraordinarily wearing a white dress of fluffy snow in these days. Indeed, it is almost unusual to taste arctic weather and contemplate snowy landscapes, which are more typical of Northern European Countries, right in the small baroque styled towns and Mediterranean countrysides that cover the South of Apulia. There, the presence of the snow is attested only in very rare occasions in the years. Perhaps, according to the perspective of a very young child, who has never seen the snow before and watches it with amazed eyes for the first time, it represents a small gift under the Christmas tree: ‘NEVE’, that is the Italian noun for ‘SNOW’ and it will be associated by the child to the cold, light, white, tiny ‘thing’ from the first moment in his life he experienced it on. The silent snowing in the night, the bright sky and view during the day, the sound of walking steps deeping in the cold soft carpet along the narrow, winding streets of small centers, everything calls for new explorations of ancient corners forged in the tender honey shaded stones and snow.  After taking a long walk and wondering about the amazing beauty of nature, seen in tiny snowflakes, perhaps a good soup, to warm our bones, would be very welcome! The cosy space by the fireplace looks very inviting in these days and it reminds of older ages, when the ladies of the family daily cooked simple meals in those typical local pots on embers. So, I took homegrown peas from the freeze, (a taste of Spring season even at Winter time is an authentic bliss!) and prepared a cream for warm bruschettas as appetizer and a spicy cauliflower and barley soup (of course you may opt for spelt or rice, for example) as main dish. Here there are some suggestions:

  • Fry gently peas in extra virgin olive oil with onion, a hint of garlic, tiny cubes of speck (from Alto Adige), salt and pepper. Add little vegetable bouillon, keep on cooking by letting the bouillon to evaporate a little and add leaves of mint when peas are soft. Make a smooth cream by using a hand blender and serve it on slices of warm bread and goat cheese.
  • As for the soup, cut the cauliflower in small pieces and make it slightly golden in extra virgin olive oil with rings of onion. Add tomatoes, a hint of garlic, a mashed boiled potato (of course it depends on the proportions of your soup) and then let simmer gently in vegetable bouillon until it will be a bit creamy. Right at the end, add the barley (already boiled) and a tea spoon of a typical spicy ricotta cheese (made of sheep milk and with a very strong spicy taste), which represents a delicacy and very ancient tradition for ‘poor’ gastronomy in Apulia region. Cook for little while more in order to combine and get flavour. Serve the soup in a bowl and a sprinkle of chopped parsley on its surface. Choose your wine and … Buon Appetito!

children-and-snow

A small plant of basil in the kitchen

5.30 in the morning and the bells announce the new day, it is Friday and soon it will be Christmas, they sing. In the kitchen, the moka machine gurgles and the fragrance of coffee expands everywhere. It is sunrise and out of the window the sky is becoming brighter and brighter. I sip slowly my cup of coffee and look at a small gift I have received last night, when I went for food supplies: it is a small plant of basil, the only one they had in the store, which the seller gave me as present. I noticed that they had recently given it some water, since there were few drops on the leaves. So, once at home, I delicately tamponed and wiped away that water from the leaves with a paper napking and poured some drops of water under the vase. In this way, I hope the plant will grow up a little stronger by getting its nutriment spontaneously in its own more balanced natural environment. To me, the presence of a little plant of basil, at hand, in a corner of the kitchen, perhaps to place where it can daily enjoy the day light, is always very welcome. I can smell its fragrance and, of course, as Italian, I love to add little fresh leaves on top of the dish when I prepare my pasta al pomodoro. Now, it is time to wish a good day to you all!

A small timballo of aubergines for this first October weekend

   Hello, a nice weekend to you all! October was announced this morning by good weather and mild temperatures. On this occasion, I would like to introduce a recipe that my mother taught me when I was a child; indeed, it comes from my culinary memories at Summer holidays, best time for learning how to cook! So, today, the recipe to dedicate to the first weekend of the new month will be a small ‘timballo’ made with aubergines.

   Looking back very briefly at history and at the long tradition of this amazing vegetable, which has its origins in India and perhaps is 4000 years old, ancient docs attest its arrival in Italy during the Middle Age, but it is only in the 17th century, through the great work of spreading and promotion of the religious Carmelite Order that the aubergine is finally appreciated in Southern Italy at first and then all over Europe. From then on, the aubergine has come one of the main ingredients of the Italian cuisine. During the WWII, it is common among shepherds and peasants to use even the leaves of the aubergines, by drying them in the sun for making cigarettes and sigars to smoke instead of tobacco, since this latter was not available by that time of history.

   Back to our recipe, dice an oval black skinned aubergine in small cubes (please, do not peel it, since its skin has relevant healthy benefits for pancreas and guts, whereas the pulp is rich in fibers, potassium, phosphor and calcium, vitamin A and C). Then, in a large pan on the stove (medium temperature), pour some extravirgin olive oil and let it to get warm. As soon as the oil starts lightly hissing, add chopped onion, scallion, a tiny idea of garlic, three or four cherry tomatoes, a couple of pieces of lemongrass and mix all together. In the end, add the diced aubergine and keep on cooking all ingredients together. Pour little white wine and a sprinkle of thyme, majoram, bay, hot pepper. Since the aubergine has a spongy pulp, I would suggest to add more extravergin olive oil in case the aubergine seems too dry. Any way, by adding a sprinkle of salt, the aubergine will release some water since this vegetable is made 90% of water. Keep on cooking until it becomes smooth and almost creamy. Then, out of the stove, pour the mixture in a bowl and leave it for some minutes to get cooler. Add one egg, grated parmigiano, some breadcrumb to make the mixture thicker, parsley and small pieces of speck from Alto Adige  (the fragrance of it will be particularly tasteful with the aubergine).

   Next step is to grease a terracotta mould for timballo with few drops of extravirgin olive oil and a sprinkle of breadcrumbs. Pour the mixture in it and bake for about 15 mins (moderate temperature, about 200° C) until the surface becomes golden and crispy.

    Serve it warm, perhaps with some julienne vegetables, or, even better, add a couple of spoons of warm tomato sauce, it will taste delicious!

Buon Appetito 

Appetizing Pumpkin Cream Snack, a Glass of Campari and.. in the Mood for the Weekend!

Hey, it’s Friday afternoon and the new weekend is on arrival! Turn the radio up, let’s go dancing straight to the kitchen and start preparing a small snack to enjoy with a glass of clinking Campari (I may suggest Orange Passion). We need half pumpkin, a quarter of savoy, onion, extravirgin olive oil, nutmeg, half liter of vegetable b0uillon, thyme, salt & pepper. Sauter chopped onion and pumpkin cubes in few drops of extra-virgin olive oil for little less than 5 minutes. Chop the savoy finely and mix it in the pan with onion and pumpkin. Salt & pepper and a sprinkle of thyme. Add little bouillon and let it evaporate slowly in about 15 minutes (please, remember to cover the pan with a lid). When it is cooked, let the mixture of pumpkin and savoy to get cooler, add some grated nutmeg and then work with a minipimer for having a homogeneous cream. Serve the pumpkin cream on warm squares of bread, your Campari and cheers..enjoy a beautiful weekend!